The attractive residential community of Oak Bay is considered the most “British” neighbourhood in Greater Victoria. Established by wealthy city residents anxious to escape the mud flats of the Inner Harbour, Oak Bay still retains a distinct genteel flavour, reflected by its village shops, restaurants and tearooms.
No matter what time of year you visit, there is always a warm welcome awaiting you in charming Oak Bay.
Oak Bay is named after the distinctively characteristic Garry Oak, the single oak species native to the Coastal Pacific Northwest. The huge, gnarled trees, with their contorted limbs and massive crowns are prevalent along Beach Drive through Uplands and Cadboro Bay, some of which are over 400 years old.
At some point in its history, Oak Bay captured the nickname “Tweed Curtain,” an affectionate, tongue-in-cheek reference to its British heritage. This explains the tea rooms. However, times have changed, and so has Oak Bay. Yes, there are tearooms, but there are also cafes, pubs, take-out fish and chips, great restaurants, and a charming shopping district with a wonderful array of specialty shops and art galleries.
The best way to explore Oak Bay is on a bicycle. One of the most popular routes is along the Scenic Marine Drive. This exceptionally picturesque roadway follows the shoreline and grants magnificent water and mountain views. It is said, and it’s true, that Oak Bay has million dollar views at any time of the day. The Scenic Marine Drive leads through the Royal Victoria Golf Course, which is the oldest course in the Pacific Northwest. Continuing along the route, stately mansions hug the shorelines to the east and the south in Uplands, a neighbourhood famous for having more millionaires per square mile than any other place in Canada.
Oak Bay has several beautiful gardens to stroll through, and parks with plenty of viewpoints. Besides being bicycle friendly, Oak Bay is also pedestrian friendly. The community takes pride in its many peaceful streets of elegant homes and gardens. As you walk or cycle, take special note of the stately Garry Oak trees that line most streets.
Marine life in its natural habitat can often be seen from the shores of Oak Bay. Sailors, fishermen, and kayakers are not alone in the ocean. They are likely to be sharing the sea with one of three pods of killer whales, gray whales, or minke whales, and as always, curious harbour seals.
Location: Oak Bay is located east of downtown Victoria. Oak Bay is bordered by the University of Victoria and Saanich to the north, Foul Bay Road to the west, Haro Strait to the east and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the south.
Enjoy touches of England in quaint Oak Bay Village. Enjoy afternoon tea served in authentic English Tea Rooms, or shop along the high street, known for its exclusive shops ranging from art and antiques to fashions, giftware, and British sweets. Situated between Yale and Monterey Streets, Oak Bay Village has served the residents of Oak Bay since the turn of the century.
The Oak Bay Cenotaph honours the young men and one woman from Oak Bay who died in World War Two. Unveiled on Armistice Day, November 11th, 1948 in Uplands Park facing Beach Drive, the Cenotaph frames a nine-foot tall statue of a woman, her eyes downcast upon the 97 names of Oak Bay’s war dead. The inscription reads: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Drive through Uplands Estates, once the site of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s huge sheep farm, and now one of Victoria’s most exclusive neighbourhoods.
The magnificent Glenlyon Norfolk School at 1701 Beach Drive was the original home of architect Francis Rattenbury, who designed many of Victoria’s famous buildings, including The Empress Hotel and the Legislative Buildings. The house became the private boys school in 1929.
Oak Bay’s famous Sloan Oak at 1069 Beach Drive is one giant Garry Oak tree with a heritage. A plaque in front recalls the memory of the Honourable Gordon Sloan, jurist and forester. A beautiful specimen of a ‘Reclining Oak’ can be viewed at 3375 Midland Road.
The sandy shores of Willows Beach host the elegant Oak Bay Tea Party in June, the biggest party of the year in Oak Bay. This annual event includes food, entertainment, rides, booths, games and a parade.
Willows Beach is one of the Victoria’s most popular swimming beaches, especially during the summer months. Bask in the sun, stroll along the shores, or launch a kayak and paddle offshore. Willows Beach provides one of the best outdoor volleyball courts on Vancouver Island.
Gonzales Beach at the south end of Foul Bay Road is a crescent-shaped gem, free of crowds and boasting golden sandy beaches.
Oak Bay Parks: Oak Bay has many natural parks containing many plants and wildlife that are native to Southern Vancouver Island; Loon Bay, Uplands Park, Haynes Park, Native Plant Garden, Anderson Hill Park, Walbran Park, Trafalgar Park, Cattle Point, and the Chinese Cemetery at Harling Point. A walk in Uplands Park can be glorious in late spring when wildflowers light up the meadows. The park features a war memorial and sweeping views of Cattle Point.
Walking Tours: Oak Bay has many delightful walks: along the waterfront with pleasant sea views, passed Tudor style houses and stately heritage homes, and through open village parks, tree-lined streets and the deep shade of heritage trees.
The Walk begins and ends in Oak Bay Village – the centerpiece of the walk – and includes Brighton Avenue, Foul Bay Road, Windsor Park, and Oak Bay waterfront (Beach Drive). From the bustling Village core you’ll be led along lanes and trails to Oak Bay’s western boundary at Foul Bay Road, and down quiet streets to the eastern shores of Oak Bay. It is 4-1/2 km in length and a great walk for viewing heritage houses. The 6-km Bay to Bay Trail goes along Shoal Bay, around King George Terrace, and back to Beach Drive. The 3-km Bowker Creek Walkway follows the off-road creek trail Bee Street through to Prospect Lane and around Oak Bay Avenue. Centennial Trail goes along Shoal Bay, Foul Bay Road, and through Windsor and Anderson Hills Parks. It is 4-1/2 km in length with some steep stairs at the Denison Road water access.
The Stroll through the original John Tod property is a 5-km walk through Uplands Park, around Cattle Point, along Willows Beach and Park to Tod House on Heron Street and back through Lokier Gardens. John Tod was born in Scotland and emigrated to Canada in 1811, where he rose to the position of chief fur trader with the Hudson’s Bay Company. His house is the oldest house in western Canada, completed in 1851. Tod built the house from heavy local timber, with pegged and dovetailed construction rare to the area. Since 1929, owners of the house have complained of ghostly activities and unexplained events. Rumours abound of secret tunnels dug from the house to Oak Bay coves for the purposes of smuggling contraband, but the tunnels have yet to be discovered.
Oak Bay Manhole Covers: Take note of the various manhole covers gracing the streets and sidewalks of Oak Bay. Many of these covers bear the stately inscriptions of their founders: Glenfield & Kennedy Ltd. of Kilmarnock, Scotland, or Ham Baker & Co. Ltd. of London, England. During the construction of Oak Bay’s streets at the turn of the twentieth century, these covers were imported here for next to nothing, because they could be used as ballast for stabilizing empty ships.
Oak Bay Marina offers visitors the opportunity to feed wild seals, go salmon fishing or whale watching, or charter a boat and explore the coastline and the area’s many small islands. Arrive hungry, and dine at the popular Marina Restaurant, or have a cup of java at the Marina Coffee House.
Kayaking: The ultimate kayak adventure! Within minutes of launching in Oak Bay, paddlers are treated to harbour seals, a sea bird colony and countless islets. The serene waters surrounding Chatham Island and Discovery Island provide fascinating exploring. The sweeping views over Juan de Fuca Strait across to the Olympic Mountains alone make a visit to this spot more than worthwhile. From Victoria, outdoor enthusiasts launch their kayaks at Cattle Point, just north of Oak Bay Marina. These waters can be treacherous, as strong currents and frequent winds create dangerous conditions. Paddlers embarking on day-excursions should be well versed in the skills of navigation, self-rescue, first aid and wilderness camping before setting off.
Canoeing & Kayaking around Vancouver Island .
Golf: Golfers have three golf courses to choose from. The semi-private 18-hole Uplands Golf Course will take bookings up to the day, for tee-off after 1 pm. The very scenic 18-hole Victoria Golf Club has been in operation for over 100 years, and is open to card-carrying members of another golf club. They usually require 24-hours notice, with tee-off after 1pm. The Henderson Pitch-and-Putt on Cedar Hill Cross Road is a 9-hole par three, first-come-first-served course maintained by the Oak Bay Parks Department.
Victoria Golf Vacations.
Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.
Golf Course Ghost: Doris Gravlin, the Golf Course Ghost, was strangled by her husband Victor in September 1936, dragged across the 7th fairway at the Victoria Golf Course and hidden under a pile of logs beside the beach. The course is famous for its seaside setting and the ghost of Gravlin, who has made frequent appearances since her murder. Often seen beside the seventh fairway, or in the vicinity of the beach, she takes on many forms, including a gliding figure in white, and sometimes plays havoc with motorists who drive past the golf course when she crosses the street. A sudden cold wind and a general sense of foreboding frequently accompany her appearance. The ghost of Doris Gravlin is one of the stories featured in the Creepy Canada series.
Trial Island at the entrance to Victoria Harbour boasts a lighthouse constructed in 1906. The long, narrow island is located a short distance offshore from Marine Drive, and can be viewed from the shoreline.
The Royal Victoria Yacht Club is a good place to get away from it all without leaving town. Pleasure sailing or racing, keel boats or dinghies, Royal Victoria Yacht Club offers a secure harbour. Power boaters and sailors alike get together for scenic cruises to the nearby Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands.
Discovery Island Marine Provincial Park occupies the southern portion of Discovery Island, 3 miles east of Oak Bay. The lighthouse at Sea Bird Point, the eastern end of Discovery Island, marks the junction of Haro and Juan De Fuca Straits, which form the border between Canada and the United States. The main attraction of the beautiful and natural Discovery and Chatham Islands is the terrific paddling in the area.
Hiking: Hiking trails on Discovery Island go from the lighthouse on Sea Bird Point to the western shore of the park, where hikers can hike up Pandora Hill for sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains and surrounding area. A colourful display of wildflowers blooms in the woodlands and meadows in spring.
The tiny 2-hectare Gonzales Hill Regional Park is the smallest park in Victoria’s CRD Park system. The main feature of the park is the Gonzales Observatory, built in 1914. The seismic and astrophysical observatory was a weather station for 75 years, and has now been declared a heritage building. The park is located on Gonzales Hill on Denison Road, off Beach Road.
To the north of Oak Bay is Saanich, the largest municipality in Greater Victoria. Saanich offers the charm of country life mingled with the convenience of urban residential neighbourhoods and close proximity to the provincial capital of Victoria.